Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Your unique route into journalism

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 16, 2012

How do you get into journalism?

The route above will be familiar to anyone working in broadcast journalism today as a typical career path into the industry. The sad thing is most people who want to be a correspondent will do their best to follow this track, because they assume it is the only way. And they’ll spend a career in a never ending race with all the other people trying to do the same thing, full of the stress, envy and critical comparison that comes with it.

10 years ago that was the only way to do it. But of course, everything has changed…including this.

Whatever it is you want to do with your life: be a BBC News foreign correspondent, edit a magazine, make a documentary about climate change, write a book, be an NPR producer, and every other job in our industry in-between, remember there is no single route. There is no right way.

There is only your way.

That’ll be news to some because most of us think there is a career path of some kind, as if getting your foot on the ladder with an internship is the only way to becoming an editor. But actually there are countless ways – ways that no-one has tried before, because they were too busy working on their CV, slogging it out as a junior reporter, and all of the other things we think we have to do to make it.

It’s the same reason people wear suits to work for decades, pull long hours for days on end and work for free when they really shouldn’t. What it boils down to is not living your life on your terms.

I haven’t worn a suit for near on three years now, and I don’t intend to start anytime soon. In the last two and a half years I’ve left the race to run my career on my terms – at my own speed. I know roughly where I want to get to, and I come up with plans to make that happen. Then I arrange my schedule for the week or month to suit that plan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy, and there have been lots of hiccups, false starts and outright failures along the way. But when I look back on my career so far, I know one thing: I’ve done it in a way that is uniquely me – and no-one could ever do it exactly the same way.

Most of us would probably prefer to follow the path well-trodden, because it seems safer and more sensible. But the real challenges, and the real rewards, lie in straying off the path, exploring your career on your own terms.

Whether you decide to do this is up to you. But whatever direction you take, don’t waste time competing in a race with others. Run/sprint/jog/walk your own race, at your own speed.


Operation Bullseye: the adventures of Dave and Sue

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 7, 2007

Meet Dave and Sue. You’ve probably never heard of either of them, but I’ve discovered them this week on my work placement at the Beeb…and they’re apparently the most important couple in local radio.

Both in their mid fifties, Dave is a self employed plumber and Sue is a school secretary. They’re divorcees with grown up children, who shop at Asda and wear casual clothes. They’re not interested in high culture and politics; for them the world is a depressing place and when they listen to the radio they want to hear “something that will cheer them up and make them laugh.”

Dave and Sue are the result of “Operation Bullseye” launched by the BBC to focus their local radio output. Managers — in true BBC style — invented the couple to give their staff someone to picture in their head when they brainstorm; they’ve even produced photographs for producers to keep on their desks.

For New Statesman writer David Self, Dave and Sue are a monstrosity that demonstrate the dumming down of BBC output.

“This practice of targeting a profiled listener is lifted directly from commercial radio…For the BBC to follow suit is proof that its primary aim is success in a commercial market.”

In my first week with BBC local radio Dave and Sue crop up regularly in discussions; everyone I’ve spoken to there says that they’re a good thing. Personifying the target audience helps producers and reporters get to grips with who they’re supposed to be talking to and it means the stations output is more focussed.

And if you think that many of the people who work in BBC local radio – a large proportion young, mobile and ambitious – are not like Dave and Sue, personifying the audience is crucial…otherwise output would be all over the place.

Official photographs of Dave and Sue aren’t available online, but a quick google search digs up some of these truly scary characters. I wonder if the real Dave and Sue could be one of this lot…

The Dave n Sue collection

The Dave n Sue collection